It was dark through most of the hours after departure from Atlanta at 10:45pm on Saturday, January 7, 2012. Many on the plane slept as the screens offered movies, TV shows and flight status updates throughout the night. And then light appeared through the windows announcing the pending arrival into Santiago. John Dooley and I were on this flight and the rest of the group had arrived earlier in the morning.
The Andes were spectacular – looming large and majestic. The tallest mountain peak in the western hemisphere appeared as we flew silently through the air space and slowly descended into Santiago. Andes on the left and shorter mountains below that appeared slightly below the plane. The lines of the vineyards cut neatly along the mountain sides. And the valleys – several as we continued our descent. And finally Santiago appeared below.
We had arrived at our destination and once through customs, we transitioned to the Santiago Park Plaza Hotel. At noon-ish, the group of eight gathered and the PFP Global Perspectives: Chile came to life.
It is a little over a week before our departure to Chile for the Preparing the Future Professoriate Global Perspectives program in Chile and in the quiet moments of winter break, I take this opportunity to reflect about the country we will visit soon.
The New York Times refers to Chile as “The Thin Country”. “Thin” obviously refers to the shape of the country and certainly not to its contributions to and growing influences upon Latin America and the world. With its unusual shape, Chile spans 4300 km (2700 miles) in length and an average of 175km (109 miles) wide. Chile contains the driest desert in the world (Atacama) in the north, the “cosmopolitan capital” of Santiago in the middle and rain forests in the south. Chile is bordered by the Pacific Ocean on one side and the spectacular snow-capped rugged Andes Mountains on the other. The geography is quite varied and diverse – impressive for sure.
In my exploration of Chile the country, I learned that Chile has struggled to overcome its image as a militaristic country and has recently embraced economic and social change. Since the late 20th century, Chile has experienced rapid economic growth and is now one of the strongest economies in Latin America. The current Chilean President Sebastian Pinera has focused on innovation and entrepreneurship to prevent “brain drain”. President Pinera earned the MA and PhD in Economics from Harvard and served as a Professor of Economics in Chile prior to his election as President in 2010. He was defeated by Michelle Bachelet in 2006 who became the first female President of Chile after serving 4 years as the first female Health Minister and Defense Minister. She currently serves as Head of UN Women.
Chile is present in world news today Recently, we have read stories about the mine collapse, the “trapped” miners and their lives a year later. The Puyehue volcano erupted earlier this year making news around the world and impacting VT travels to Chile. Chilean wines continue to make news – the Chilean wines appear in Blacksburg stores and Carmenere finds a home at the Inn at Virginia Tech. The student protests in Chile this Fall were newsworthy for months and we will be able to gain first hand knowledge of these efforts while in Chile.
Virginia Tech has a special relationship with Chile. VT has identified a location for our collaborations and have established partnerships with Chilean universities especially Austral University. The PFP Global Perspective group will have the opportunity to benefit from the relationships and learn about this intriguing country. I look forward to the visit. See you in Santiago on January 8th.
Earlier today I was thinking about information of importance to our PFP Global Chile group as we prepare for our visit. Before we depart we should gather knowledge of the Latin American landscape for higher education with a focus on Chile. We will visit three universities and gain specific knowledge of each but we must understand these in the context of the country and continent.
In searching for materials, I came across a book written in 2005 about Higher Education in Latin America. It is available online via The World Bank here. The book includes country specific information as well as general trends and challenges for Latin America. I recommend chapters 1, 2, 5 and 11. In preparation for our gathering on October 20, please review the chapters.